It is not uncommon for people to be accused of an offense they didn't commit. A heated argument could be misinterpreted and become something ugly. The judicial process in Florida is slow-moving and complicated. At Arnold Law, we are experienced and can help you navigate the system. Keep reading to learn different criminal law tips that might come in handy during the criminal process and increase the chances of winning your case.
What is the Typical Criminal Process in Florida?
The court proceedings are both complicated and confusing to navigate. Below is a summary of the criminal process in Florida.
An offense is committed, and if police officers reasonably believe the accused engaged in criminal conduct, the accused is arrested. After the arrest, you will be booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. The police could ask you questions to get more information or your previous criminal record.
In Florida, a defendant who hasn't posted bail goes to a court of law for the initial appearance within twenty-hours after their arrest. During the arraignment, the judge determines if there is probable cause to think the accused committed the offense and whether they qualify to post bail.
Then the prosecutor reviews your case and determines whether there is adequate evidence for continuing with the prosecution. Typically, it takes a couple of weeks to be charged formally. If you are still in police custody, you can be released on your own recognizance if you haven't been charged within forty days from your arrest date.
The next stage is the arraignment, and the judge will advise you on your charges. You can plead no contest, not guilty, or guilty. A guilty plea refers to accepting the case facts and acknowledging or admitting violating the law. A not guilty plea is denying having committed the alleged crime. On the other hand, a no-contest plea means although you aren't admitting guilt, you deny that the charge can be established.
The law permits discovery, and should your defense attorney choose to engage in discovery. The lawyer can access all the prosecutor's evidence. Generally, discovery is:
- Written reports or statements
- Electronic media such as DVD videos, MP3 file, and CDs
- Depositions in person and sworn statements that witnesses should offer your lawyer
During this stage, the defense counsel learns the proof against you and, depending on the evidence, decides whether to reach plea bargain negotiations or proceed to your trial. It is one of the reasons you should have a lawyer guiding you through the criminal process. Otherwise, you might make foolish or costly decisions that might affect you for the rest of your life.
Plea bargain negotiation happens between your defense lawyer and the prosecutor. You agree to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a conviction from the prosecution. When you accept the plea bargain, you can avoid incarceration, receive a lesser sentence, or a less severe charge. Your defense lawyer should be able to know which plea you're offered.
After putting the essential factors into consideration, you can choose to proceed to trial. During your trial, lawyers from each side are permitted to give a closing statement, and an opening statement before the judge or jury renders the verdict. In case of a not guilty verdict, you are acquitted and free. Nevertheless, a guilty verdict leads to receiving penalties for the alleged crime. Sentencing can happen immediately after your trial or later, permitting your counsel to formulate mitigation for the sentencing.
What is Considered a Legal Arrest?
Typically, the criminal process in Florida begins when the police place a suspect under arrest, the suspect is taken to custody and is not free to move about or leave. It can happen when the police tell the suspect that they are under arrest, and the suspect submits without the police officer using physical force. The use of handcuffs or physical restraint is not necessary.
Discussed below are the legal circumstances under which the police can arrest you:
The Police Witnesses the Commission of the Offense
If a law enforcer saw you violate the law, the police officer can arrest you. For instance, if you are driving erratically and an officer pulls you over, administers a breath test, and finds out that your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit, the police officer can arrest you.
An Arrest Warrant Has Been Issued
Your arrest is legal when the police have an arrest warrant. A magistrate or judge issues an arrest warrant after the police have submitted a statement outlining the basis of taking you into police custody. Typically, the warrant:
- Highlights the offense committed
- Identifies the suspect
- Specifies where the suspect can be found
- Gives the police the consent to arrest the suspect
There are numerous forms of warrants, and the arresting authority should arrest you within your arrest warrant's parameters.
The Arresting Police Have Probable Cause
When the police reasonably believe based on circumstances and facts about violating the law or committing an offense, they can detain you. The belief is called probable cause.
If Arrested, Does the Arresting Officer Have to Read You Your Rights?
No. Nonetheless, if the officer begins questioning the defendant but has not read them the rights, they cannot use whatever the accused says against them in a court of law. Miranda rights consist of:
- The entitlement to remain silent.
- Whatever they say could be used against them in court.
- The defendant is entitled to a criminal defense counsel and have the attorney present during questioning.
- The defendant can have a public defender appointed to them if you cannot afford an attorney.
- Should the accused agree to speak with the police, they can stop their interview at any time.
An interrogation can happen anywhere, in jail, at the crime scene, in a field, or on the street. If the defendant is already detained, the police officer should read you the Miranda rights before questioning them and use the response as evidence at their trial. However, Miranda warning isn't necessary if they aren't in custody. Often this exemption occurs when law enforcers stop a person on the streets for questioning regarding a criminal occurrence, and the individual confesses before the law enforcer delivers the warning.
Will the Judge Dismiss Your Case If the Police Questioned You Without a Miranda Warning?
Most defendants mistakenly think that their case could be dismissed in court if law enforcers fail to read them the Miranda warnings. The Miranda warning is vital if the law enforcers are interrogating a person in custody and plan to use their response as proof. If the officers don't read the defendant the Miranda rights, nothing the suspect says would be proof to sentence them. However, there are exemptions.
Per the fruit of the poisonous tree rule, the court should suppress evidence originating from unlawfully acquired evidence. However, it does not apply to Miranda warning the same way it applies to the U.S Fourth Amendment. Often physical proof like drugs that the police find out due to a statement after a missing Miranda would be admissible in a court of law.
What is the Most Effective Method to Assert Your Entitlement to Remain Silent In Case the Police are Questioning You?
If you're in police custody and you elect to keep quiet until you speak with a defense attorney, you must tell the interrogator that. If you keep quiet, the interrogator can lawfully continue questioning you, and you could say something that you will regret later. You could stop the interrogation by saying:
- "I do not want to speak with you, but my lawyer."
- "I claim Miranda rights."
- "I invoke the rights against incrimination."
If the law enforcer continues questioning you following asserting the entitlement to keep quiet, they have broken Miranda. Consequently, whatever you say from that point cannot be used as proof of guilt in the court.
How Long Does Florida State Have to Bring Charges?
The answer to this question depends on the following two factors.
Was the defendant arrested? If arrested, the prosecutor should file the charges before the speedy trial expires. If charged with a misdemeanor and a felony, the speedy trial runs in ninety days and one hundred and seventy-five days, respectively.
If the defendant was not arrested, the state has three (3) to four (4) years to file the charges depending on the crime's seriousness. Capital crimes do not have a statute of limitations, and you could be arrested any time, even if it is forty years later.
What Should I Expect During the Booking Procedure After the Arrest?
Following your arrest, a suspect is taken to police custody and then booked. During booking, the police will take your information, record details about the offense, and photograph you. Although the procedure varies with jurisdictions, here is an overview of what will happen:
Essential Details are Recorded
The police officer will compile your name, the alleged offense, and contact information. Most of these details are taken from the incident's account or the police citation.
The next step involves sitting or standing to capture photographs. The photos indicate your height.
Personal Property Seized
You will be given a jail uniform and should relinquish your clothes, among other properties. The items will be held until you are released.
Taking Your Fingerprints
The police officer will take an impression of all your fingers. If the alleged crime has the fingerprint-proof, they will be compared to yours to eliminate or match you. Then the fingerprints will be kept in the police database. Additionally, you might be requested to provide hair, DNA, or saliva samples.
The full-body search involves removing all clothes. The aim is ensuring no drugs or weapons have been brought to the cell. The police will search irrespective of whether the alleged crime is minor and does not involve drugs or violence.
The police will perform a health screening to ensure that you neither require immediate medical attention nor are a threat to other suspects or police officers. It can include x-rays or blood tests.
Look for Warrants
The police will search in their database for all outstanding warrants you might have. From time to time, police have solved other crimes by picking another person for an unrelated offense and finding a match.
Finally, you will be put in a secure facility or cell as you await posting your bail or trial. Before the placement, the police will inquire about gang affiliations and other factors that could present challenges in the confined space.
What Should I Do If I Can't Afford to Post Bail in My Case?
More often than not, bail is set at an amount that is too high for the defendant to pay. As a result, many innocent persons remain in custody for many months or years due to post bail's incapability.
Bail is the money that you pay as a guarantee that you will attend all court hearings. If you fail to appear, you could be imprisoned. Typically, bail is set during the arraignment hearing after your arrest and filing of charges. When determining your bail amount, the judge considers factors like the severity of the charges, whether you are a flight risk, community ties, and criminal record.
If you cannot afford the set bail amount, you can use either of the options below:
Request a Lower Bail Amount
You can make this request through your defense attorney. It can be successful if the ordered bail amount is excessive and might cause you economic hardship. The request can be made at a bail hearing or during the arraignment. For the privilege to be satisfied, the judge determines to act so at their discretion.
Sometimes, the accused might be released on their own recognizance. In this case, the defendant promises to appear in court. Typically, this option is available if the defendant isn't a flight risk, and a minor offense is involved.
You can also use collateral to secure your bond cost. You can use your motor vehicle or real estate. While liquidating property might be insensible or difficult, placing them as collateral could assist secure your bail without selling your asset.
Use a Bail Bond Agent
A bond dealer could assist post bail when the set bail amount is expensive. The bail bond agent will post the whole bail amount on your behalf and charge you a specific percentage of your bond. In most cases, it is ten percent. Posting your bail ties the bond agent to your case because they will lose the entire bail amount should you fail to appear in court.
What is the Process for Your Arraignment Hearing?
In Florida, the authorities should bring you to a court of law within twenty-four hours of your arrest. The arraignment happens in front of a judicial officer. You might appear either by live video feed or in person. The criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor will be present.
The purpose of the arraignment is to:
- Notify you of your charges
- Issue you with a copy of the complaint
- Set terms and conditions of your release
- Advise you of the entitlement to a legal counsel and to talk to your loved ones and lawyer
The court will appoint a lawyer to represent you during the arraignment if you want one but cannot afford one. When you hire a defense attorney, the court should give you time to send for the attorney. If needed, the judge will postpone the arraignment. On your request, the court should also notify your lawyer. If your postponement means that you stay in custody for more than 24 hours and request it, the court could appoint an attorney for arraignment purposes.
Effects of Delay
Failing to bring you to court within twenty-four hours of your arrest breaks the law. However, the violation does not mean that evidence acquired at the time of the delay will be suppressed or your case will be dismissed. Instead, it would help if you established that prejudice originated from the delay.
What is the Meaning of Being Presumed Innocent Until Proven Guilty?
Presumption of innocence is a criminal procedure principle in Florida. It shifts the burden of proof to the prosecutor to establish that you engaged in a crime. It has numerous consequences that might not be obvious at first.
The state will not constantly harass you. Without the presumption of innocence, you cannot stop the prosecutor from compelling you to prove the innocence and filing charges against you. With a presumption, the prosecutor only has the incentive to file charges when they think there is adequate proof to establish you committed the offense.
Moreover, it means the defendant does not have to prove or say a thing in their defense. You can be silent throughout your trial. Unless the prosecutor proves that the accused violated all the offense's facts, the defendant should be judged innocent.
What Does Standard for Guilt in Your Trial Mean?
Many offenses should be established beyond any reasonable doubt. Together with the presumption of innocence, it is the highest standard for the prosecutor to demonstrate. The criminal law procedure was deliberately created based on the concept that it's better to allow a guilty person to go free rather than convict an innocent person.
The legal phrase "beyond any reasonable doubt" means the prosecutor should resolve every possible doubt about your guilt and determine that there isn't any conclusion, but you must have violated the law.
How Does a Misdemeanor Differ from a Felony?
A felony in Florida is a more serious offense, and it carries more time (more than one year). On the other hand, a misdemeanor is a lesser crime and is punishable by fines and jail time. It can be less than one year. Crimes are charged either as a misdemeanor or felony, depending primarily on the prosecutor's inclination and the offense’s seriousness. Crimes punished by fines only aren't crimes but infractions. A perfect example is traffic violations.
What Is Being Incompetent to Stand Trial?
Should it look like you cannot understand the allegations against you and cannot help your defense attorney in your defense, the judge might order your evaluation. A psychological expert experienced in detecting deception will perform the review. It is because most defendants feign mental health conditions to avoid conviction.
If you are regarded as incompetent, it doesn't mean you will go free. Instead, you'll be placed in a secured mental facility until you are considered competent to stand trial.
What is the Punishment for Crimes in Florida?
If you're found guilty in Florida, your sentence will depend mainly on the crime's nature and severity. Felony crimes are categorized into four, and each category carries its maximum sentence.
- A capital felony is the most severe crime and can attract the death penalty.
- A life felony carries life imprisonment.
- First-degree felonies attract a maximum of thirty years in prison and ten thousand dollars in fines.
- Second-degree felonies are punishable by fifteen years in prison, ten thousand dollars in fines, and fifteen-year probation.
- Third-degree felonies are the least severe felony, and they carry five thousand dollars in fines and a five-year sentence.
Who Does Plea Bargain Work?
One of the ways to fight a criminal charge is to enter into a plea bargain. In the plea bargain, the prosecution offers you a deal to plead guilty in return for a lower sentence or reduced charge.
A charge bargain allows the prosecution to offer you a chance to plead guilty to lesser charges or dismiss your charge in return for guilt admission.
In a sentence bargain, you will know in advance what the penalties will be should you plead guilty.
Here are essential things to recall as far as plea bargain is concerned:
- It would be best if you spoke with your defense lawyer before accepting a plea bargain. If there isn't adequate proof against you, the counsel might drop or reduce your charges before pleading guilty.
- Ensure you understand the plea bargain details before agreeing. Having an attorney review the charges is a brilliant idea to ensure you are receiving a fair chance at the defense.
- You are entitled to bring a complaint with the court if the prosecution fails to uphold the plea bargain details. Filing the complaint can have the plea set aside or force the prosecution team to adhere to the offer.
- You should adhere to your plea bargain terms and conditions.
- Finally, if ever uncertain about the plea bargain, you should consult with your skilled attorney.
Find Legal Representation Near Me
Being charged with an offense can leave you feeling frustrated and like you have no one or nowhere to turn. A conviction might result in severe penalties that might affect your life, career, and finances. You might find the legal process complicated and confusing to navigate. At Arnold Law, we can stand with you throughout the criminal law process to help you realize the best possible case outcome. Call us today at 904-264-3627 to schedule your initial case consultation.